Shivaji Park, the otherwise bustling Sena bastion and venue for the Dussehra rally started by party chief Bal Thackeray 46 years ago, turned a silence zone on Thursday despite it being a holiday.
The critical condition of Thackeray subdued Diwali festivities as residents of the area took off lanterns from windows out of respect. “A day or two earlier, the park was full of people. It is quiet today,” said Naval Patel.
Large lanterns hoisted by Sena as well as MNS were also removed by party workers. A lantern outside the house of MNS chief and Thackeray nephew Raj was also lowered in the afternoon. Workers were seen removing decorative lights put up around trees near the Mayor bungalow.
While the sound of a cricket bat hitting the ball could be heard, a small group of children playing at the north side of the park was not cheering at all.
The Sena Bhavan area was shut but for a few medical shops. Employees of Shivaji Park petrol pump said the owner told them after work on Wednesday night not to open the filling station Thursday morning.
Plaza Cinema, screening Jab Tak Hai Jaan, put up a notice cancelling all shows for the day and declaring refund to patrons.
Several small groups of people waited outside Sena Bhavan for good news about Thackeray. However, most party workers and leaders were at Matoshree.
There was heavy police presence around Shivaji Park and Sena Bhavan. An ambulance was also stationed near the park.
Traffic at Lalbaug and Parel, both Sena strongholds, was lean while most establishments remained closed. Parel has witnessed a shift in power with MNS gaining a foothold. “ We are MNS members, but our guidance has predominantly come from Balasaheb. How can we celebrate? We requested people to keep shops shut. People obliged,” said Vinit Deshmukh of Parel.
Most MNS workers, who had earlier served Sena, could not keep their emotions in check. “We were directed to remove all Diwali hoardings and lanterns put up around our shakhas (units). This is the least we could do in Saheb’s respect,” said Lalbaug shakha chief Sachin Desai.
Residents of Lalbaug and Chinchpokli stayed indoors. “It has by far been peaceful, but one cannot really anticipate. It’s better to be cautious than sorry,” said Deven Shah, a diamond merchant in Zaveri Bazaar.
Barring stray incidents of stone-pelting on Wednesday night, it was largely peaceful in Thane. Shops and offices in Thane, Bhiwandi, Kalyan, Dombivali and Ambernath remained open on Thursday. The only ones that were shut were near railway stations. Some Sainiks in Ambernath and Dombivali performed mahamrityunjay jaap.
Thane Commissioner of Police K P Raghuvanshi said, “We have deputed all our 9,000 personnel across Thane, Bhiwandi, Kalyan, Dombivali, Ambernath and other areas.”
Cops cover Mumbai in security blanket
With Bal Thackeray’s condition reported to be stable, the city remained calm on Thursday. However, Mumbai Police stepped up security to deal with the law and order situation. A majority of police and paramilitary forces were deployed around Thackeray’s residence Matoshree in Bandra. Police maintained heavy patrolling in Shiv Sena bastions of Dadar, Shivaji Park, Lalbaug and Parel.
Weekly offs over the next couple of days for all policemen have been cancelled, said senior officers.
“There was already enough bandobast due to the festival season, with 10,000 men deployed across the city. Since yesterday, 500 more personnel have been deployed. This comprises three companies of the RAF and five companies of the SRPF. No major law and order problem was reported, apart from a scuffle between Shiv Sainiks and policemen in Vakola on Wednesday night,” said Niket Kaushik, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime).
“We urge Mumbaikars to remain calm and not believe in rumours,” Kaushik added.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Sadanand Date said, “We have deployed our men at important spots across the city, and are keeping a close watch on developments.”
A security cordon comprising around 4,000 police and paramilitary personnel was thrown around Matoshree.
Traffic police officials on Thursday said arrangements have been planned for any contingency considering Thackeray’s health, and the 3,000-strong department was working in close coordination with the local police stations.
“We have been planing for more than a day now. This includes movement of VIPs, who will be reaching Mumbai from all over the country,” said Brijesh singh, Additional Commissioner of Police, Traffic.
Buses run as usual; taxis, autos stay off roads
While BEST buses were plying as usual, many taxis and auto-rickshaws stayed off the roads anticipating violence on the streets.
“Our taxi drivers stay in far flung areas such as Virar and Bhayander; many decided not to ply in the city fearing they may not be able to return home if there is any violence, especially after the two or three skirmishes last night,” said Anthony Quadros, a taxi union leader.
Thampi Kurien, an auto-rickshaw union leader, said till the time there is an assurance from the state government that people and vehicles will not be targeted, they cannot expect auto-rickshaw drivers to ply.